Any time a team underperforms, it’s open season as to what happened, which players are to blame or what the team did wrong. The St. Louis Blues are no different and, at times, may fall under extra scrutiny simply because they’re not one of the blue bloods.
In 2022-23, the Blues were thought by many analysts to be a playoff outlier, but most fans (including myself) did not believe it. It made no sense for the team that was one of two to give any challenge to the Colorado Avalanche to turn around and miss the playoffs the next season.
I thought the Blues would easily be in the top three in the division, if not challenging for the division crown. Instead, the team failed in every phase of the game and didn’t even contend for a playoff spot at the end of the season.
Needless to say, it was a disappointing year. However, the confusion as to why remains.
It seemed like the players on the roster simply did not perform up to standard, which is somewhat true. Yet, the confusing part comes in when we look more at the guys that actually got traded away.
Most of the players that left had decent turnarounds in other program. You might have personal problems with some of them, but the numbers don’t really say that.
For example, Vladimir Tarasenko scored eight goals and 21 points in 31 regular season games with the New York Rangers. Though fans loved to point out how disappointing that was, it was essentially the same pace he had in St. Louis. Vladi had 10 goals in 38 games with the Blues. It was a down year for him for sure, but given everything that was going on, it was still the same overall pace.
It’s impossible to tell how Ryan O’Reilly did in Toronto. He opened up with a solid pace and ended the year with four goals and 11 points in 13 games though he broke his hand, which limited his action. He looked like he was initially going to have a great pace. Three goals and nine points in 11 playoff games isn’t anything to sneeze at.
Interestingly, everyone is drooling over Ivan Barbashev. Barby had 10 goals and 29 points in 59 games in St. Louis and then six goals and 16 points in 23 games with Vegas.
The points per game went up, for sure. However, he was also playing on the Golden Knights’ top line, which put him in a better position to get those points. That doesn’t mean he automatically should have been on the Blues top line.
Why bring any of this up? Mostly, because I see constant social media posts talking about how the Blues made a mistake letting so-and-so go because they turned it around elsewhere.
The bottom line is this is a straw man’s argument. It starts as saying the Blues were wrong and then turns on any fan that disagrees by saying they’re wrong for disliking said player.
The truth of it is that the initial argument often starts with a person that is just a fan of that player. If you were already on the side of any of the mentioned players, you’re more likely to see their success as proof that those players were not at fault at all.
This is not true. O’Reilly was the team captain and could not find a way to lead this group out of their slump. It’s not his fault alone, but he was part of the problem. Often, whether with the Blues or Leafs, he looked slow and out of place regardless of point production.
Barbashev is the darling of fans right now. Craig Berube tried Barby in just about every single role you can think of and he was simply OK. He didn’t accomplish much on his own unless he was set up for good plays. He was physical, as he always was, but it wasn’t enough on this particular team.
Tarasenko was always a polarizing figure. Even before all the trade request drama, so many didn’t want to give him his due and many also inflated his performance. The reality is that the Blues have not had a scorer of his caliber for a long time, but he also disappeared far too often. We saw both of those showcased in New York.
You could even expound this discussion to Alex Pietrangelo. Though Petro has been gone for three seasons now, I still see so many whining that the Blues were wrong to let him go.
It cannot be argued that Torey Krug has not lived up to the contract given to him, but the reality is that the Blues would have been even more cash strapped if they gave Pietrangelo the contract he wanted it. If you think he deserved that money, so be it, but St. Louis is already in cap trouble heading into 2023-24 and they took the lesser money deal. It would be even harder to add players or keep players over the last couple years if they had kept Petro.
But, it’s easy to say the Blues were wrong because Pietrangelo is in the Stanley Cup Final with Vegas. It’s easy to say that St. Louis was wrong for letting Barbashev go since he’s having a career playoff run.
It’s all fool’s gold from St. Louis’ perspective. How well any of those players performed once gone is irrelevant.
The entire team did not perform to their capabilities in 2022-23. Frankly, as inconsistent as they were in all phases, even if they got the same production from those players as they gave elsewhere, they would have been trying for that eighth playoff spot at best.
So, if you like those players and enjoy their talents, it is fine to keep rooting for them. It is silly to say the Blues made a mistake though.
Doug Armstrong made the best of an awful situation. He maximized his draft capital, which sucks for those of us that want NHL-ready players in a trade scenario, but that was not in the cards.
Of course, this is nothing new. Fans have been whining about the losses of TJ Oshie, Ryan Reaves and Pat Maroon for even longer.
I’m as nostalgic as the next person, but eventually, you have to just let it be. Cheer for the individual if you want, but bashing the team over and over for making what they felt was the best decision at the time is a fool’s errand.